Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Legal Education

I was indebted to an article in the Australian for drawing my attention to a speech by (Victorian) Chief Justice Marilyn Warren  (the Fiat Justitia lecture, a link to the text is here) regarding a number of aspects of legal education in Australia.   Her speech covered quite a lot of ground, and it was good to see these issues getting some exposure.

One of the issues she mentioned is that the universities are producing far more law graduates than can ever be employed as a lawyer.    On a per capita basis, the number is far higher in Australia than it is in the US.  In one sense, this is not all bad news, because a law degree can be a good form of generalist education.  After all, how many arts graduates are employed as historians or whatever their major may have been?   Moreover, if the places in law courses aren't available, they will become even more elitist than they are now (I'm not sure that the brightest VCE students will necessarily become the best lawyers).

However, this seems to have the result that the universities are responding to the demand for places in law courses by turning law into a generalised degree that fails to include some matters the judiciary considers important.  She didn't say this, of course, but my informal observation is that these days there is quite an emphasis on "sociological" subjects, dealing with human rights and similar issues.  But she did say that the way in which subjects are taught has changed, and that the teaching in some core areas is, "at least disappointing and in many respects unsatisfactory."  She also says that it, "it is unfortunate that law students typically spend years studying the law before they find out what it is like to practice law".  And she sends a shot over the universities' bows, saying, "if the university sector persists with the generalist direction a solution for legal practice effectiveness is needed".  She moots various possibilities, including an "admission to practice" exam (akin to the bar exam sin the US) or even a cap on the number of lawyers (the aspect that the Australian chose as the subject of its headline).

Justice Warren's speech is worth reading in its entirety. I hope the law schools take it on board.

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